Sunday, November 10, 2013

#LetToddWork vs. #LetToddSpeak

Update: I got some very good feedback from friends like Jackson (see comments) and smart folks like Clay Johnson (via Twitter) that made me reconsider a few points. If you don't know Clay, you should catch up with his writing and his radio appearances. His recent comments regarding Congress' Self-Lobotomizing on NPR had me cheering out loud - which, is has awkward as it sounds when you have headphones in.

To Clay's point is fair. It was not, however, my experience (ironically, with a national VA health IT contract). As CTO, the Board wanted to know everything I was doing when the stuff-hit-the-fan. There were more updates, not less. I found that being transparent and getting out in front of it really helped - something I was not always good at."Too busy fixing" would never have flown, at least for me.

That said, I took a personal  "N of 1" and made a generic statement from it, without being transparent on why I believed it to be true - who knows if that experience scales to other organizations. Thankfully it has not happened to me again. There are many different possible actions by a Board in this situation. So, while I'm leaving that sentence in for the purpose of discussion, it probably would make for a stronger argument to remove it. Fair point. +1 for feedback!

My frustration is that many of the people working on this and other healthcare related problems - former PIF's like Ryan and current ones like Adam - and many other staff there, are friends. I want the public not to see these people as the problem, but the solution, and to bring confidence where there was incompetence. Perception and trust is going to be a big part of the future of our healthcare system, and having Todd out front, I think, is good for the long-term prospects of this critical movement. I don't want to give the nay-sayers the ability to claim we're hiding from the problems. Maybe it's just wishful thinking that Todd can get the team in place to fix things and be the face on the movement, but I believe he can.

Original Post:

A movement of sorts has started within digital health in response to Sen.  Darrell Issa's subpoena of United States CTO Todd Park. I won't bore you with the details, and the the premise is simple - republicans want him to testify, and the White House says he's too busy fixing right now to come over for a chat. My guess is that none of this is his decision, and being played out by people much more political than Todd.

In response to the subpoena, the digital health community has now started with it's own take - which, like any good movement has a hashtag (#LetToddWork) and a website ( To be clear, I signed it (as much as approving use of my twitter handle is 'signing') - but at it's core, I'm signing to make sure Todd knows he has my full support - there are few people I support more in Government - but I think the specifics of the movement are flawed.

Like everyone in Digital Health, I've met Todd many, many times, and always been impressed by him. His energy and passion are infectious, and the idea of him behind the scenes marshaling resources to get fixed gives me confidence.

At the same time, he's the CTO of the United States. "Letting Him Work" should include communication - the idea that #LetToddWork shouldn't include this is hard, logically, for me to understand - and I think the world of Todd. I think the lack of transparency combined with taking away Todd's skill of the spoken word is a major misstep, and not the path we should encourage.

If this was a Startup - an analogy that Todd himself likes to use - would we say "Sorry, our CTO isn't coming to the board meeting to explain why our latest release failed, he's too busy fixing it." That would never be acceptable. It also would suggest that the team has been built so poorly that fixing it can't be done without one specific person - which is a bigger red flag than any other. Again, I believe Todd is inheriting this mess and inheriting this messaging, but for us to support the lack of testimony and the #LetToddWork approach is, I would argue, failing Todd.

Let me put it this way. One of the things we love about Todd is ability to get people behind a movement, such as Open Data. He comes from Healthcare. He can motivate and inspire. Isn't Todd who you want talking? Isn't that what we love about him? I am sure he's a very smart and accomplished Software Architect and Programmer at some point in his career, but if that's what he's doing now, we're in the deep stuff. We need him out front. We need a clear plan, spoken not as a bureaucrat but as someone who has success in the private sector solving problems just like this one, and someone to motivate the community behind it.

So here's what I want. I want to hear from Todd. I want Todd to tell me how I can help. I want to see a plan I can get behind, and contribute too. I want the White House to let the Todd we-all-know shine through, not be buried and hidden and used as political pawn. And I want our community not to fall into that political trap.

I have no doubt that Todd is doing everything he can, everyday, to fix this mess. I also know that if he was the Face out Front, not the Fixer in the Back, we'd all be better off.

Maybe the right movement is #LetToddSpeak